This is one of my favorite blog posts from my Obama page (reprinted from 2008…)
With the Colbert Report on hiatus due to a writers’ strike, the duty of coining zeitgeist words falls to ordinary readers like myself. A transformation is happening, and has been happening during my X-generation’s lifetime: Our capitalistic economy is mutating into something better described as “crapitalism.”
Take a look at the US economy. Half of our annual retail depends on Christmas holiday sales. Manufacturers of cars, computers, and even media depend on built-in obsolescence to stay in business. Cathode-ray televisions are no longer made in the US yet half of homes still contain one. In a year analog “air-wave” broadcasting will cease and consumers will be forced to buy digital equipment, aided by government subsidies, of course.
Underneath every sector of our economy, profits are propped up by a built-in “crap factor.” If something works well and lasts for a long time, people will spend less and the company will become less attractive to investors. So instead, we continually replace the acceptable with the inferior and manipulate consumers, forcing what they already own to become worthless.
If the strength of capitalism is that companies compete, crapitalism is the its weakness. If a product is “too good,” companies end up competing against their customers’ satisfaction with the product they already have. Either by enticing customers (with better products), or by compelling them (through built-in obsolescence), companies stay solvent by outwitting customers’ efforts to spend less. This is the source of the crap in crapitalism: Our economy’s health depends on either burying us with more crap we don’t need or stymieing us with crapy products that don’t last as long as they used to.
Our reliance on a crapitalistic economy does more than just annoy consumers, it is as big of a burden on subsequent generations as are the much-debated Medicare crisis, global warming, and dwindling world oil reserves. [2009 update: Crapitalism drove the unsustainable growth that created the financial implosion that now sucks our economy of the fiscal power to address these major problems without drowning in a downward spiral of debt.]
My X-generation faces the nearly impossible challenge of weaning companies away from an obsession with growing larger. In the future (but still in my lifetime) we simply won’t have the resources or the energy to do it. We can try, gobbling up our resources now to keep up with China’s shortsighted growth frenzy. But that will only further destabilize the economy, ensuring a collapse when consumers can no longer afford the cost of all this crap, inflated by rising oil prices. [2009 update: Oops! I guess it happened decades sooner that I expected… but just wait until oil supply tightens – that “stagflation” will redefine hardship, period.]
Do we finally admit our brand of capitalism has developed a drinking problem? Thus far in 2007, none of the presidential candidates has acknowledged this lack of long-term planning. We’ve admitted we have a problem with oil dependency, but no future leader will ever navigate a way out of the oil crisis without also dealing with the huge consumption and waste that crapitalism breeds.
Consumers would welcome high quality products that last a lifetime, but these products would obviously shrink our economy. No wonder leaders don’t want to talk about it! It looks like consumers will be forced to drag reluctant leaders and companies along the high (quality) road away from crapitalism, if we are going to have any hope of better managing global resources for our children.